I grew up with ooey-gooey marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, though I no longer make them that way. I have many fond memories attached to this vegetable. When I eat them now, they’re usually roasted, piping hot from the oven with nothing added or, for a change of pace, topped with cinnamon for a soul-warming treat with an anti-inflammatory kick.
As a registered dietitian, I see sweet potatoes as one of nature’s greatest gifts. Naturally delicious and versatile, sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious foods on the planet. They’re a tasty source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is important for bowel health, cholesterol management, healthy digestion and blood sugar control.
High nutrition and low calories
The orange variety is most popular, but they also come in white, red, pink, violet, yellow and purple. Its high nutritional value and low calories – if you leave off the butter, sugar and marshmallows – makes it a superfood.
They contain vitamin A, precursor to beta-carotene for vision health. They also contain vitamin C for immunity, vitamin B6, manganese, potassium, niacin, and protein. (Yes, plant foods have protein.)
Purple sweet potatoes have the added bonus of high anthocyanins, one of many phytonutrients – plant properties that promote health and fight chronic disease.
Along with other vegetables and fruits, sweet potatoes have complex carbohydrates, meaning they aren’t quickly converted to sugars in the body. Instead, they provide long-lasting energy to fuel your muscles, brain and other cells.
Loaded with potassium
One medium sweet potato contains up to 50% of the recommended daily amount of manganese, a trace element that can help brain function and mood swings. They’re also loaded with potassium to help regulate blood pressure.
To use healthy, economical, delicious sweet potatoes:
- Buy local whenever possible.
- A deeper orange color means sweeter taste.
- Choose frozen options that avoid added fat.
- Store in a cool, dry, dark place, such as a pantry. Don’t refrigerate.
- Use within a week of purchase.
- Use instead of white potatoes in dishes like shepherd’s pie or hash browns.
- Batch-bake and keep in your fridge for quick weekday use. They’re great for breakfast, too!
Need recipe ideas?
Oven baked sweet potato fries are a delicious and healthy alternative to deep frying.
Two more recipes
February is also African American Heritage Month, and West African sweet potato peanut stew is a great addition to our traditional foods.
Top a healthier Sweet Potato Casserole with chopped pecans and spices for extra nutrition. Yum!
I hope this has inspired you to move beyond sugar and marshmallows when making this amazing vegetable. Healthier cooking options will help you reap full sweet potato nutrition benefits.
Franella Smith Obi is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist with over 20 years of clinical nutrition experience. She provides nutrition and health counseling to Veterans at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Greenville, South Carolina, and teaches nutrition to nursing students at USC Upstate. She spends her free time writing and raising her Schnauzer, Winston.